Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Colorado Cherry Bars

I've made batch after batch of cherry bars this summer, and they always seem to hit just the right note. Their rich fruit flavor and crumbly, buttery crust make them a pleasure to eat. And, their tidy, portable form makes them perfect for picnics. No fork or spoon required.

I grew up in Colorado, and before I moved away I discovered this cherry bar recipe in a Junior League of Denver cookbook. As far as I can tell, nothing about these bars has anything to do with Colorado, but I like the "Colorado" in the original recipe name because it makes me think of home. Today (this very day!), my brother is moving back to Colorado, and I've decided to mail him some cherry bars as part of a housewarming care package.

These bars are great because they take only about 5 minutes to put together (plus another 30 minutes to bake), and with the exception of the cherry preserves, the ingredients are all pantry or refrigerator staples. So, if you're careful to always keep a jar of good cherry preserves on hand, you can throw together a batch of these sweet, tasty treats at a moment's notice.

The starting point for the recipe is a crumb mixture made of oats, flour, and brown sugar, mixed with lots of melted butter. Some of this mixture gets pressed into the pan to form a bottom crust and the remainder is used as a crumb topping. Cherry preserves form the middle layer. The bars go into the oven until the top is lightly browned and the cherries are bubbling through to the surface.

The key to making this recipe outstanding instead of just pretty good is using high-quality cherry preserves that are slightly tart and filled with lots of whole fruit. I like Bonne Maman preserves, which seem to be available at most grocery stores. Cherries are the best fruit for this recipe because of the way their tartness counterbalances the very sweet crust, but other fruits work well too. Blueberry, peach, or strawberry preserves all produce nice results if you stir in a just a little bit of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar for added zing. 

Colorado Cherry Bars
Adapted from Colorado Colore: A Palate of Tastes by the Junior League of Denver. Makes 16 bars.
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned, not quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 (13 ounce) jar of cherry preserves 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a saucepan and set it aside to cool slightly. 

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the oats and brown sugar and stir to mix. Pour the melted butter into the mixture and stir first with a spoon and then with your hands until the mixture is moist and crumbly.

Press 2/3 of the crumb mixture into a greased 8x8-inch pan. Spread the preserves over the surface of the crust, leaving a 1/4" border around the edge of the pan (to prevent the preserves from bubbling out to the edges, where they will burn and stick). Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the crumb mixture over the top. Squeeze the crumbs together as you take them from the bowl to give the topping a texture like small pebbles. Try to cover the fruit entirely with the crumb mixture, if possible.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the bars are brown and bubbly. Cool completely, then cut into squares.


  1. The bars look as delicious pictured as they were when set out on the red tablecloth of the reception table in July. The bars that day added a nice touch to the dessert buffet centered around the kransekake, or Norwegian wedding cake. The dessert table is one of my favorite pictures taken from that afternoon! It sort of sums up the whole good time.

    July would be nice to have with us now. We aren't in your situation as far as the gas line (story above). But hours of the oven being on, adding welcome heat,sounds wonderful as we embrace ?!) the twenty-degree aftermath of yesterday's four to six inches of snow.

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